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Update: Agent Farewell and the Siberian Pipeline Explosion

April 26, 2013

Vladimir Vetrov. Codenamed Farewell.

UPDATE: The Archive’s latest EBB from Jeffrey T. Richelson shows that since at least 1997, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been responsible for developing ways to attack hostile computer networks as part of the growing field of Information Warfare (IW),  according to a recently declassified internal NSA publication. The NSA’s Computer Network Attack (CNA), comprises “operations to disrupt, deny, degrade or destroy” information in target computers or networks, “or the computers and networks themselves,” according to the NSA document, which is one of 98 items the Archive is posting today that provide wide-ranging background on the nature and scope of U.S. cyber activities. Check out the EBB on the Archive’s website for a detailed overview of U.S. cyber concerns, and for an interesting precursor to cyber warfare get reacquainted with Agent Farewell, the CIA’s modification of Soviet computer technology, and the subsequent Siberian Pipeline explosion.

Agent Farewell and the Siberian Pipeline Explosion

Around Halloween 1982, an explosion occurred in the middle of Siberia, vaporizing a large segment of the newly-built trans-Siberian pipeline. The explosion –which was reported to be 1/7 the magnitude of the nuclear weapons dropped on Japan during WWII– severely damaged the pipeline, which was set to produce $8 Billion in petroleum revenue annually for the USSR. Only recently has this silently successful CIA operation been disclosed to the public.

The tale begins with agent “Farewell,” Vladimir Vetrov, a Colonel who served as one of the heads of the KGB Directorate tasked with stealing Western technology. In 1981, disillusioned by Soviet life, Vetrov suddenly sent French Intelligence, la Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST) – a collection of over 4,000 pages of highly classified Soviet documents pertaining to industrial espionage ventures. It was immediately clear that the intelligence was vital. The data included the names of 250 KGB agents (located abroad and well covered), tasked with stealing Western technology, but the most useful item was a “wish list:” the technologies most sought by the Soviet intelligence.

At a summit in Ottawa in July 1981, French President Mitterrand shared the intelligence with President Reagan, and by August, the intelligence was in the hands of the CIA. The files, which were “incredibly explicit,”[i] showed that for years, the KGB had been expertly infiltrating US factories, government agencies and laboratories to steal technology needed by the Soviet Union.

One of the few accounts of the “Farewell Affair” was authored by Thomas Reed, former Secretary of the Air Force (1976-77) and national defense advisor to the Reagan Administration. In At the Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War, Reed explains:

During the years of détente, the US and the USSR had set up working groups in agriculture, civil aviation, nuclear energy, oceanography, computers, and the environment. The purpose was to start construction of “peaceful bridges” between the superpowers. Working group members were to exchange home-and-home visits. The Soviets thoroughly corrupted this process by inserting intelligence officers into those delegations dealing with technology of interest to them. Farewell made the extent of this subterfuge glaringly apparent. Even one of the Soviet cosmonauts, participating in the joint US-USSR Apollo-Soyuz space flight, was a KGB science officer.

CIA Director William Casey wisely decided that rather than round up the KGB agents (though this would happen eventually), he would use the Farewell data as counter-intelligence. (Unfortunately, according to Reed, there were no written memoranda from the deliberations of how to use the Farewell intelligence.) The CIA then leaked many of the items on the wish list to the Soviet agents, carefully doctoring them to be ultimately useless or even hazardous. The technology was wide-ranging, and included stealth, attack aircraft, space defense, and even the design of a discarded space shuttle model from NASA.

Most significantly, the Soviets sought computer technology to run the aforementioned Siberian pipeline. Reed explains:

To automate the operation of valves, compressors, and storage facilities in such an immense undertaking, the Soviets needed sophisticated control systems… Russian pipeline authorities approached the US for the necessary software, [but] they were turned down. Undaunted, the Soviets looked elsewhere; a KGB operative was sent to penetrate a Canadian software supplier in an attempt to steal the needed codes. US intelligence, tipped by Farewell, responded and – in cooperation with some outraged Canadians – “improved” the software before sending it on… the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines, and valves was programmed to go haywire, after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to the pipeline joints and welds. The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space. At the White House, we received warning from our infrared satellites of some bizarre event out in the middle of Soviet nowhere.[ii]

Despite the explosion’s visibility from space, it resulted in no known physical casualties, and – despite its monumental size – appears to have occurred unbeknownst to the Soviet public.

We have yet to find primary source data or US government documents concerning the pipeline explosion so this report relies largely on Reed’s recollections. But, the FOIA requests have now been submitted. We’ll let you know when the documents trickle in.


Weiss, Gus. “The Farewell Affair”:

Reed, Thomas C. “At the Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War,” (New York: Ballantine Books, 2004)

[i] Reed, p.267

[ii] Ibid, pp.268-269

  1. Catherine permalink
    July 14, 2011 12:48 am

    Could you indicate the source of Vetrov’s picture? I am pleased to read that you asked for tangible proof of this event.

    • Catherine Cauvin-Higgins permalink
      May 19, 2013 4:17 pm

      Hi Rob, this particular picture? No idea? Considering how bad he looks, might be KGB archives? The pictures in Kostin and Raynaud’s book on Farewell (AmazonCrossing, Aug. 2011), although very well documented, does not have this one.

      You might be interested in the most recent attempt to sort things out by Canadian journalist/film maker Vincent Frigon (aired last January in Canada)

  2. Rob1 permalink
    May 19, 2013 12:50 pm

    It’s la Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire, not le. Direction is a feminine word in French. 😉

  3. June 7, 2013 2:45 am

    Reblogged this on syndax vuzz.


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